By Matt Sheehan
Last updated: 01/07/14 2:09pm
Six days after winning the 100th Rose Bowl game over Stanford, MSU football ended its season at 13-1 and finished at No. 3 in the AP and USA Today Coaches polls.
In the last six years, head coach Mark Dantonio has seen his Spartans place in the top 25 four times.
MSU had an outside shot of finishing at No. 2 after Auburn lost to Florida State in Monday night’s BCS National Championship Game, but Auburn finished 43 points ahead of the green and white in the AP Poll and a mere 13 points in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
The top ten finish in the AP Poll is the first since 1999, and the No. 3 ranking also is the highest postseason ranking since 1966, when MSU was ranked No. 2 in the AP and United Press International Polls with a 9-0-1 record.
That tie came in what was regarded as “The Game of the Century” when the Spartans tied No. 1 Notre Dame 10-10.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 01/02/14 5:00am
PASADENA, Calif. — MSU head coach Mark Dantonio reportedly has a deal in place to make him one of the Big Ten’s highest paid coaches.
ESPN reporter Joe Schad tweeted the following from his personal account prior to kickoff of Wednesday’s Rose Bowl: “Mark Dantonio’s new deal w Mich. St. will place he and his staff among the three-highest paid coaches in the Big Ten. Texas did reach out.”
Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press confirmed Schad’s report with athletics director Mark Hollis via text message, who said the details were not ready to be released publicly yet.
Currently, Dantonio makes $1.96 million per season, which ranks ninth in the Big Ten. To join the ranks of Urban Meyer ($4.6 million), Brady Hoke ($4.154 million) and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz ($3.985 million) who are the three highest paid in the bed.
Dantonio’s success in revitalizing the MSU program has prompted the change, and perhaps serves as a motivator to stay in East Lansing if, say, Texas came calling as Schad alleged.
“That’s very flattering, but it would be hard to leave these guys,” Dantonio told reporters after his team won the 100th Rose Bowl. “They make the plays. (It) would be hard to leave all those people out there. So while it’s very, very flattering, my intentions are to be at Michigan State. That’s all I’ll say about those things. I’ll look forward to seeing my guys come back on Monday morning for classes. “
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 12/31/13 1:10am
In the final year of the BCS format in Division I football, MSU will get its long-awaited shot in arguably the premier post-season destination outside of the national championship.
When the No. 4 Spartans take on No. 5 Stanford, champion of the Pac-12, in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, it will be the realization of a longstanding goal for head coach Mark Dantonio’s program. MSU narrowly missed BCS bowl bids in 2010 and 2011, but rebounded from a disappointing 7-6 campaign a year ago behind a resurgent offense led by first-year starting quarterback Connor Cook and a vicious defense that ranks No. 1 in the country.
As the Spartans’ dream becomes reality in Pasadena, Calif., in what is expected to be a majority MSU crowd, here are five storylines to watch:
1. Missing Max?
Since the Spartans touched down in California on Christmas night, the biggest story surrounding their team has been the shocking announcement of senior linebacker Max Bullough’s suspension.
I wrote in a column Saturday how Bullough’s absence on the field won’t be as detrimental as the distraction the situation created and the potential void in leadership presented.
I’ve been wrong before and I could be wrong again. Stanford wants to out-tough opponents offensively, much like MSU, with a power running attack behind a bulky offensive line.
How much Bullough’s ability to adapt the defense and process things on the field is missed should be evident early.
The Spartans have other leaders, and it’s incredibly hard to believe they won’t be fired up to play in this game, so I’m not sure they’ll need him too much in that regard.
But if Stanford finds a way to exploit Bullough’s absence in the running game, it’s possible MSU’s defense could be taken advantage of in a way not previously seen in 2013.
Senior Kyler Elsworth is expected to start in Bullough’s place, while sophomore Darien Harris also may see time in the middle.
2. We’re here, now what?
From the moment Dantonio was hired in 2007, the openly stated goal for his program was to return to the Rose Bowl – a venue the Spartans haven’t played in since 1988.
The previously mentioned near-misses in 2010 and 2011 left bitter tastes in the mouths of MSU players and coaches alike. Now that the Spartans finally made their return, they now have to worry about actually winning the Rose Bowl.
Since hitting the West Coast, they’ve been showered in bowl gifts and new gear, participated in a prime rib eating contest and enjoyed a comedy show as a team in addition to enjoying the sunny California weather.
For so long, MSU strived to get to this game. Now that it’s there, will the Spartans be content with participating or be prepared to win?
3. Trench warfare
It’s often said that whichever team dominates the line of scrimmage wins the game, and that adage couldn’t be more fitting for this matchup.
As previously mentioned, the Cardinal will line up with multiple tight ends and offensive linemen and look to knock the Spartans off the ball with a bruising rushing attack.
Stanford is an old-school, power offense with few frills and gimmicks averaging more than 210 yards per game on the ground.
MSU also relies on the running game to get its wheels turning and open things up for Cook in the passing game, but Stanford, No. 3 nationally in rush defense, will be the toughest challenge yet.
If either team gains a decisive advantage up front, it’s odds of winning should increase tremendously.
4. Langford’s streak
Outside of Cook, junior running back Jeremy Langford’s emergence at running back has been the surprise story on offense for the 2013 Spartans. Langford cemented himself as the starter early and grew into a potent weapon as the season wore on.
Currently, he’s riding a streak of eight 100-yard rushing games, many of which included breakaway touchdowns to ice games late in the fourth quarter.
Ohio State tried to stack the box to stymie Langford in the Big Ten Championship Game, and Stanford is likely to do the same.
If Langford can keep the 100-yard streak alive, and possibly even deliver another late-game dagger, it’ll be one of the keys for the Spartans to leave Pasadena with smiles on their faces.
5. Going out on top
After beating the Buckeyes for the Big Ten championship, MSU had been ranked No. 1 in the country in total defense for 13 consecutive weeks.
The Spartans give up an average of 248.2 yards per game, giving them a slight nod ahead of the No. 2 defense, Louisville, at 251.5 yards per game.
Can MSU hold on to its top ranking? Somebody much smarter than me would have to figure out exactly how many yards MSU can surrender for that to be true.
If the Spartans get torched, that probably means they lose the game and the No. 1 spot. One of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s favorite lines is “stats are for losers,” but there’s no denying that finishing the year as the top-ranked defense would be a feather in MSU’s cap, especially with a Rose Bowl victory.
This has been a benchmark year for the Spartan defense, which began its ascent as an elite unit in 2010. The finale, pitted against one of the best offenses it’s seen thus far, should be exciting to watch.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 12/30/13 9:41pm
MSU’s vaunted defense has NFL talent at every level, which has played no small part in establishing it as the No. 1-ranked unit in the nation for most of the season.
One player who isn’t concerning himself with playing for paychecks yet, however, is sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound breakout star of the Spartan defense this season is a third-year player after redshirting as a freshman, thus making him eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Calhoun told reporters in Calfornia last week that he’ll be back in East Lansing for at least one more season, mainly because of his desire to graduate from MSU.
“I love this university,” Calhoun said. “I love playing with these guys. I love (defensive coordinator Pat) Narduzzi. I love (head coach Mark) Dantonio.
“I would never regret my decision to come here and get my degree. People can never take a degree away from you. They can take football away from you, you’re not going to be in it for long, you can get injured, anything, but I feel like they can never take your degree. So coming back to get that, I would never regret that, ever.”
Sliding into a starting role vacated by Will Gholston, who turned pro after his junior season, Calhoun kicked off a highly productive season with three defensive touchdowns in the first two games. He has 36 tackles on the year, including a team-leading 14 for loss and 7.5 sacks, to go along with four fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Calhoun’s standout season put him on the radar of NFL scouts and draft analysts, validating his potential future as a professional. He was named the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year to go along with first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-American honors.
His presence in green and white next season will be critical as the Spartan defense looks to maintain its production despite losing seniors and longtime contributors Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen, Tyler Hoover and Micajah Reynolds.
“We have a (saying about the NFL,) ‘Not for long league,’” Calhoun said. “You don’t know how long you’re going to be there. An injury, they cut you from the team. I want to get my degree so I can be established and go forth after that.”
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 12/20/13 8:48pm
For the third consecutive year, MSU has plucked one of Pennsylvania’s top football recruits to join the green and white.
The Spartan program received its 18th commitment for the class of 2014 on Thursday when four-star safety Montae Nicholson pledged to play at MSU at a ceremony at his school, Gateway High, in Monroeville, Pa. Nicholson also will reportedly get a chance to play wide receiver.
Rivals.com ranks the 6-foot-2, 202-pound Nicholson as the No. 1 player in Pennsylvania and No. 13 safety prospect in the country.
MSU’s 2012 recruiting class was highlighted by the commitment of four-star safety Demetrious Cox of Jeannette, Pa., while quarterback Damion Terry was a prized recruit from Erie, Pa,. in the class of 2013.
Nicholson chose the Spartans over offers from Florida State, Oregon, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech among others. His lead recruiter was MSU offensive line coach Mark Staten.
To check out highlights from Nicholson’s junior year, click here.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 12/19/13 3:30pm
The rich homie is set to meet the Spartans in California some type of way, according to a report from MLive.com.
The report says Atlanta rapper Rich Homie Quan, the artist behind the Spartans’ unofficial 2013 theme song “Type of Way,” has plans to join the team in Los Angeles and potentially through the program’s Rose Bowl trip.
Quan reportedly watched MSU in the Big Ten Championship Game when head coach Mark Dantonio dropped his name and endorsed the song during a post-game TV interview.
Throughout the season, videos have surfaced on social media and Big Ten Network’s “The Journey” program of MSU players and coaches dancing to “Type of Way” in the locker room after victories.
“I want to be out there in a green jersey and feel a part of Michigan State,” the rapper told MLive. “I want to be at the game, I want to be out there with them. I feel a part of Michigan State now, and you don’t even know what it means to me.”
Quan said he’s hoping to secure a No. 31 jersey of fellow Georgian Darqueze Dennard, one of the catalysts of making his smash hit MSU’s anthem. He also named sophomore quarterback Connor Cook as one of his favorite players in the interview.
“They go out there with swagger, to bust people in the mouth,” Quan said of the Spartans.
“I know win or lose, people are gonna feel some type of way after playing them.”
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 12/16/13 6:22pm
As if a Big Ten championship, a trip to sunny Pasadena, Calif. and the opportunity to play in the 100th Rose Bowl game wasn’t enough, the 2013 Spartans will be bringing home some new gear courtesy of “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
This year’s Rose Bowl gifts include a Fossil watch, New Era 39Thirty hat, Ogio backpack and a gift suite where MSU and Stanford players can choose from a variety of electronics, jewelry, furniture and other items.
Per NCAA rules, bowls are allowed to dole out up to $550 worth of gifts for 125 members, although most programs typically purchase more for program staffers, according to Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal.
Typically, postseason gift packages include items such as personalized watches, rings and clothing that feature the bowl’s logo. Other common gifts are electronics not limited to TVs, game consoles and headphones or gift cards and paid shopping sprees to certain retailers.
Looking at some of the marquee gift packages across the country, Wisconsin and South Carolina, squaring off in the Capital One Bowl, will receive a $450 Best Buy gift card and shopping spree, Timely Watch Co. watch and a Russell Athletic workout shirt.
The Military Bowl is giving Maryland and Marshall players a Playstation 4 game system, a winter hat and Ogio backpack. Oregon and Texas will play in the Valero Alamo Bowl and receive an iPad mini, Apple gift card, Fossil watch, panoramic photo and a Schutt mini helmet. The Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg Bowl is hooking the East Carolina and Ohio teams up with a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, Oakley Breadbox glasses, an Oakley Status backpack and a Schutt mini helmet.
For Auburn and Florida State, playing for it all in the BCS National Championship, they will receive a Fossil watch, New Era 59Fifty hat, Oakley Flak Pack XL backpack and a gift suite.
To check out a full list of 2013-14 bowl gifts, click here.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 12/13/13 10:00pm
Darqueze Dennard is MSU’s first recipient of the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation’s top defensive back each season.
The announcement that the senior cornerback beat out fellow finalists Lamarcus Joyner of Florida State and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert for the award came Thursday on ESPN’s college football awards broadcast.
Winning the Thorpe Award is the crown jewel on a long list of accolades for Dennard, which includes being named the Tatum-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, first-team All-Big Ten for the second consecutive season and winning the Jack Tatum Award (another honor for the nation’s best defensive back). The former two-star recruit from Dry Branch, Ga., was selected as a first-team All-American by USA Today, Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation.
As one of the most vital cogs in MSU’s No. 1-ranked defense, Dennard racked up 59 tackles, two forced fumbles, 10 pass breakups and a career-high four interceptions.
“The defense, we had a great year this year,” Dennard said at the awards show, with head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi on hand.
“I couldn’t have won this award without my teammates and the coaching staff, and I think we all just did a great job.”
First-year starters Jack Conklin, Shilique Calhoun and Trae Waynes have received recognition as well since MSU won the Big Ten championship.
Conklin, a redshirt freshman tackle, was named to the Sporting News’ Freshman All-American team. Waynes, the cornerback opposite Dennard,was named to Scout.com’s College Football News All-Sophomore second-team while Calhoun, MSU’s dynamic defensive end, made the first team. Calhoun also was honored as a Walter Camp second-team All-American.
By Stephen Brooks
Last updated: 12/07/13 6:05pm
INDIANAPOLIS— No. 2 Ohio State is far and away the best team No. 10 MSU will see this season. A potent offense orchestrated by quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and a speedy bunch of wide receivers.
The Spartans’ No. 1-ranked defense has answered every challenge thrown its way this season, but the Buckeyes are on a higher plane than any team MSU has played.
Conversely, the Spartans are the toughest opponent Ohio State has seen so far (as well as the first ranked foe).
The Rose Bowl is on the line for MSU, while the Buckeyes hope to play for the national title with a win in an intriguing strength versus strength matchup.
Here are five keys for the Spartans to complete the upset tonight in Indianapolis:
1. Contain Miller and Hyde
Miller makes everything go for this high-powered Ohio State offense as one of the nation’s most electrifying playmakers both running and throwing the ball. Hyde is a powerful downhill runner that rarely is stopped for negative yardage. MSU has been tough to run against all year, and if it wants to claim the outright Big Ten title, it will boil down to stopping the best backfield tandem it’s faced. If Miller and Hyde find consistent running lanes, it’ll be a long day for MSU.
2. “Bend but don’t break”
Considering the explosive potential of the Buckeyes’ offense, MSU needs to hold them to field goals when they make it to the red zone to keep it close. If Ohio State is going to reach the end zone, it has to be on big plays. MSU has no shot if Ohio State can methodically drive the ball down the field for touchdowns against its defense, and the Spartans aren’t equipped to win a shootout against this team.
3. Save the best for second-to-last
Put simply, MSU needs to have its best offensive game of the year in terms of both strategy and execution. That’s not to say it has to break out the double-reverse passes from the back of the playbook, but it’s likely we’ll see some new wrinkles to keep Ohio State guessing. Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook and the offense have protected the ball well all season, and that trend can’t has to continue in Indianapolis for MSU to be successful. Ohio State’s offense can pile up points in a hurry, and any extra possessions will dig a deeper hole for the inconsistent Spartan offense to climb out of. Establishing the running game early with junior Jeremy Langford will make everything easier offensively if MSU can soften up Ohio State’s defense and start executing play-action passes. Why not go with an all-hands-on-deck approach to the run game and batter the Buckeyes with Langford, bruiser freshman Delton Williams and slip a few carries to Cook to make things interesting?
4. Do something special
The Spartans need a big play on special teams to seize the momentum in this game. MSU’s kick and punt returning has been below average all season, so a big return for a score or one that sets up a touchdown would be huge. As always, you have to be on the lookout for some kind of trick play from MSU’s special teams. Whether it’s a surprise onside kick, or dare I say, a punt block, I think MSU has to make a statement on special teams to get an edge in this one.
5. Put emotions to use
With the bitter feeling of the 2011 loss in this game still fresh in the mind of many Spartans, there’s no doubt they’ll be fired up for the opportunity in front of them. With the stakes this high, the Spartans have to use that fire and emotion appropriately and not let it consume them. MSU can’t allow mental errors on behalf of being too fired up, because Ohio State will capitalize on the mistakes and it could be over early in that case. The Spartans need to show the maturity they’ve displayed all season and stay the course mentally through the highs and lows to keep this game competitive.
By Dillon Davis
Last updated: 12/07/13 6:02pm
INDIANAPOLIS — Former MSU and current Alabama head coach Nick Saban was talking about the Big Ten Championship Game on ESPN’s College GameDay this morning. And although he wouldn’t tip his hand as to a prediction for the game, Saban made it clear he believes MSU’s defense is elite.
Having spent time at both MSU and Ohio State, Saban said he has “a little sex appeal” for both of the teams taking the field at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this evening (8:17 p.m., FOX).
However, he praised MSU’s “toughness” on the defensive side of the ball.
“One thing I think Mark (Dantonio) does is a great job of promoting toughness on his team, and I think that’s reflected in the great defense they played all season long,” Saban said, according to a story by the Detroit Free Press reporter Joe Rexrode. “I think they have a great opportunity, if they can focus on being who they are … (to) be successful in this game.”
Saban’s Crimson Tide team previously was No. 1-ranked team in the country before being upset by Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl.
Elsewhere on the College GameDay set, World Series of Poker winner and MSU alumnus Ryan Riess was the celebrity guest picker, taking MSU. Meanwhile, ESPN analysts Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit picked the Buckeyes to come away with the victory.